What Does it Mean to be Spiritual?
And how do we live the spiritual life?
What comes to mind when you think of the word spiritual? In scripture, we are exhorted to desire spiritual gifts, sing spiritual songs, and pray spiritual prayers. We are to walk in the spirit and live a spiritual life.
Sounds good. But what does it mean?
Here’s what spiritual does NOT mean: Spiritual does not mean religious. Or pious. Manmade religion may stimulate your intellect and feed your flesh, but that doesn’t make it spiritual.
To define spiritual, it will help to know what your spirit is.
Your spiritual antenna
Your spirit is that part of you that makes you spiritually aware or God-conscious.
For want of a better analogy, your spirit is like an antenna. Just as our physical bodies connect us to the physical realm, our spirits connect us to the spiritual realm. Just as we have natural senses (sight, smell, hearing, etc.), we have spiritual senses (e.g., intuition).
Think of a television. Just as a television can detect signals from both terrestrial transmitters and heavenly satellites, our souls can sense physical things via our bodies and spiritual things via our spirits.
Now we begin to understand why Watchman Nee, in his seminal book The Spiritual Man, referred to the soul as the medium or the middle bit between the spirit and the body. The spirit receives signals from the spiritual realm (e.g., the Holy Spirit) which it transmits to the soul, and the soul exercises the body in response to the spirit’s instruction.
What does it mean to be spiritual?
The generic definition of spiritual is “having to do with the spiritual realm as opposed to the physical realm.” The spiritual realm includes God, the heavenly host, fallen angels, and the spirit of every person who ever lived. (The physical realm includes your body, the food you put in it, the bed you slept on, and the clothes you are wearing.) In a general sense, spiritual simply means of the spirit.
Yet there is another meaning of spiritual:
He who is spiritual appraises all things… (1 Corinthian 2:15)
In this context, a spiritual person is someone who has been born of the Spirit, has the Spirit of God, and is led by the Spirit (John 3:5, Rom. 8:9, 14). In contrast, an unspiritual person is someone who remains in the flesh or is walking after the flesh (Rom. 7:5, 8:4).
Some teachers, including Nee, would describe the latter person as soulish or soulical, as though to live by the soul was the opposite of walking in the spirit. A better adjective would be fleshly (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:3) or worldly (Jude 1:19).
The soul is neither fleshly nor spiritual; it is the chooser that decides how we will live. This may come as a shock, but you can be in the spirit (i.e., born again, in spiritual union with the Lord), but still walk in the old ways of the flesh.
Two ways to live
But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)
If you have not been born of the spirit, you cannot walk after the spirit. You can only walk after the flesh. But if you are in the spirit, you can choose to walk in the new way of the spirit or the old way of the flesh (Gal. 5:17).
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the spirit, the things of the spirit. (Romans 8:5).
The choice between the flesh and the spirit is not like choosing between two flavors of ice cream. It is a choice of life or death.
The way of the flesh leads us down a cursed path to self-destruction, but the way of the Spirit leads to a blessed and everlasting life (John 6:63, Rom. 8:13, Gal. 6:8).
For the believer, walking in the spirit is the life-giving choice. But the problem is we are much better at walking after the flesh. We’ve been doing it all our lives.
Nearly every movie we watch, every song we hear, every book we read, and even some sermons reinforce the old message of self-reliance. “Work harder. Trust yourself. Follow these steps to a better life.”
Our flesh responds with zeal but the result is sin and death. We try to fly but fall short again and again. Our flesh is incapable of living the spiritual life.
But just as we learned to walk in the natural, we can learn to walk in the spiritual.
Sure, there will be a few stumbles along the way and missteps are to be expected. But God does not condemn us when we fall. Our loving Father comes alongside us to guide us and help us soar.
Be encouraged. God is for you and by his grace you will learn how to walk in newness of life. And when you do – when you learn to rely on the spirit and distrust the flesh – you will have a good and blessed life.
The spiritual life is the life you were made for.
Source: Spirit, Soul & Body: How to Walk in the Spirit, available now on Patreon.
Love it, Pastor Paul!
Genuine question: If we now have the Holy Spirit and Christ in me [us], then we no longer have our own spirit, or at the very least, our old spirit has been regenerated. So by definition, we are as spiritual as we will ever be on earth until at least we appear like Him. Is that a fair?
Our spirits do not die when we are born again; they become joined to the Lord in spiritual union. I think John 4:17 answers your question: “As he is, so also are we in this world.” You cannot be more spiritual than you are when you are born of the Spirit, but you can still walk in the old ways of the flesh and act unspiritually.
I love this! Thank you, Paul! Andrew Wommack has said this truth was a game changer for him. Will your book be available at some point to those of us who are not on Patreon?
Thank you. These ebooks on Patreon are not full-sized books – maybe 60 pages. I have no plans to publish them, but I will release extracts as free articles here on E2R. There are a couple more to come.
Perfect looking forward to them.
I look at it as letting God be spiritual. I make myself available for Him to be spiritual. He’s got the spiritual groceries :). It seems when I’m trying to be spiritual, I’m pretty much instantly in the flesh. I think my part in being spiritual is mostly believing.
Great points, Paul. I really like the way you’ve laid this out. Dissecting the framework of the setting we exist in and how we are designed for it, for me, has shed a lot of light on this subject of spirituality. There is a part of us that we are simply out of touch with to the point of being dead to it, our spirit. As you say, all the information we consume from the world is teaching us, nonstop, to trust and rely on ourselves – to live apart from the Spirit. That must be reversed. We all need an Obi-wan Kenobi to help us open our soul to our spirit, put up the antenna, see without using our eyes, wield the sword of the spirit, be amazed, and hear him say to us as he did to Luke when he was first introduced to his dormant ability to ‘use the force’ (walk in trusting union with the Spirit), with his hand on our shoulder “That’s good, you’ve taken your first step into a larger world”.
Our resurrection in Christ has changed everything! Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil. Not believing it, is why we fail. Interesting that Yoda said basically that to Luke AFTER his awakening to the force. Just as you pointed out that “if you are in the spirit, you can choose to walk in the new way of the spirit or the old way of the flesh”. There is nothing automatic about this… it is a relationship and God respects us too much to bypass the relational aspect of our union with him.
When you said:
“This may come as a shock, but you can be in the spirit (i.e., born again, in spiritual union with the Lord), but still walk in the old ways of the flesh.”
My way of looking at this is that even if we are walking in the spirit, we are still, to some extent, in the flesh. It is more like a spectrum. There are areas of our lives in which we trust God and follow the spirit, while other areas we have yet to surrender, or are just not aware that we are still conforming to this world.
As we draw closer to Him, we see areas that are not yielded or could me more yielded and we respond. In that sense, all of life is repentance.
Hi Paul I would like to order the book ‘ spirit soul and body ‘. Thank you
The Spirit, Soul & Body ebook is not for sale. It is a thank you gift for those who support my writing. Without patrons, I would not be able to write articles for E2R or create the Grace Commentary.